Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Ask the Expert: David Dill

Stanford's School of Engineering website has an "Ask the Expert" page posing to Prof. David Dill the question: "Will we be ready for electronic voting in 2008?"

The role of computers in voting should be limited, because computers are fundamentally limited machines. Computers are so complex that we can’t tell whether they are working properly. Because of system errors and the possibility of tampering, we may never have a computerized voting system that we can deem completely trustworthy...

Imagine a voting system in which you walked into a booth and dictated your votes to a man hidden behind a curtain. The job of the man would be to write your votes down and put them into a ballot box. Without the ability to see the man (the curtain is not transparent) how could you be sure that he was writing down your votes accurately? How could you be sure that he really put your ballot into the ballot box so that it would be counted? All-electronic voting systems are just as lacking in transparency.

There is no way for the voter to verify that the vote was recorded properly or that it was stored for counting. The computer is just like the man behind the curtain. Software can programmed accidentally or intentionally to do the wrong thing. You can’t see what is happening inside the computer. It can even show you one vote while recording another...

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